One of the darling ports of calls when boating up and down the east coast is Savannah, GA. The city was founded in 1733 by the British as a buffer between the Spanish in Florida and the city Charleston to its north. It is distinctly British in layout having 22 squares in an easy to get around grid. Each square is only a few minutes’ walk from the other and varies in character. Many have fountains or statues. These squares give the city a very civilized and park-like feel. Many squares border different historic districts that we enjoyed walking around. While Savannah started pre-revolutionary, it grew up during the Antebellum Period and has plenty of pretty architecture to reflect that era.
To call on Savannah, cruise up the Savannah River 20 miles following the markers as the river curves. With the city being a major southern shipping port, be on the lookout for freighters. If you are on a sailboat with a concern about powering in, be alert in regards to the river current and ebb tide. Just before reaching town look to port for the Waving Girl Statue. This is a statue of Florence Martus who waved by day and lantern by night to every cargo ship that called on Savannah between 1887 and 1931.
The best place to tie up is at the River Street Market Dock (www.riverstreetmarketplace.com/dock/).Here you will find a 260 foot, hurricane strengthened concrete floating dock. The price is $3.50 per foot with hookups included. The location of the Dock is adjacent to the River Street Market. An advantage of docking here is that you can walk to everything in Savannah. There is also a trolley stop here.
If you want a resort atmosphere during your visit you can tie up at the Westin Hotel dock across the river from the city. Here you will be treated like a hotel guest with the use of all the Westin facilities including room service. Hotel information can be found at https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/savwi-the-westin-savannah-harbor-golf-resort-and-spa. Boaters must use www.dockwa.com to make reservations that average $3.50 per foot. The hotel runs ferries across the river from 7:15 AM to 9:40 PM.
I recommend spending a leisurely three nights and two full days in Savannah starting your first day with a “Savannah Stroll” by Savannah Walks (www.savannahwalks.com/). This 90-minute stroll around the center of the city covers six squares, the cemetery and several streets. During our tour, we learned much about the history of Savannah and its layout. Our guide also pointed out and discussed several different historic homes that were open to the public.
To see more of the city and to visit these historic homes and neighborhoods you can either walk or take one of the tourist trolleys. We chose the Old Savannah hop-on, hop-off trolley (www.oldsavannahtours.com) on a two-day pass. This was because at some of the stops they had different costumed historical reenactors tell us about their life. The trolley ride is guided between stops so you can learn about the different squares, buildings and neighborhoods you drive by. We hopped off the trolley at a few houses listed below. Having the trolley stop by the boat was very convenient.
Old Southern Homes
The first mansion we visited was the Mercer Williams House from 1860. This home was made famous by the book (and movie) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The 30-minute tour takes you through rooms filled with antiques as well as the small garden. Our guide told us of the history of the home, its owners and how things changed over the decades. This home is on the ghost tour walk due to the three deaths occurring here.
The next home visited was the Owen Thomas House completed in 1819. It is considered the finest example of English Regency architecture in America. It has an impressive staircase that will make anyone’s “grand entrance” look fabulous. It also has an unusual bridge from the front of the house to the back covering over a staircase. Tours start at the former slave quarters, go through the mansion and then into the garden. (https://www.telfair.org/visit/owens-thomas/)
The third home visited was that of the founder of the Girl Scouts called the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace (https://www.juliettegordonlowbirthplace.org/). This large corner mansion was completed in 1821 and is decorated with period pieces from the 1880s. It has artifacts from Juliette Low throughout the house. The gift shop on the lower level has Girl Scout related items. The tour is as much about the history of Mrs. Low as it is about the house. Between house visits, we enjoyed the tree lined streets of the areas older pretty homes.
Between mansion visits, we recommend a stop at Leopold’s Ice Cream store. Leopold’s is said to be one of the best totally calorie worthy ice cream places in the south. Flavors change monthly here.
Savannah during its growth was a religiously tolerant city. Some called it the Holy City due to its religious unity. It was one of the earliest places for Jews to worship freely. British General Oglethorpe openly invited Jews on the first boats and gave them a piece of land as a cemetery where he is honored.
Temple Mickve Israel (the third oldest synagogue in the U.S.) offers tours of its sanctuary and its museum which contain some of the oldest Hebrew scrolls in the country. It has original letters from President Washington, Adams and Monroe on religious freedom. There is also the original Playbill from Driving Miss Daisy where the lead character is from.
Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum
Anyone interested in the maritime should visit this museum (https://www.shipsofthesea.org/). The big draw here is the collection of large ship models. Other exhibits here include ship marine artifacts, scrimshaw and paintings mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries.
To complete our visit on our second day we boarded Savannah River Cruises (www.savannahriverboat.com/) and let someone else do the skippering for a 90-minute river ride.
Sit back with a tall cocktail while you learn about the waterfront and enjoy the views.
For something different, take Blue Orb Ghost Tour (www.blueorbtours.com/) to get some insight into the ghostly side of Savannah. While some people in our group took to the afterlife stories seriously we found them entertaining. During the tour, the guide shows photos of the spirits (orbs) that he says were taken by people on previous tours.
Evening entertainment can consist of bar hopping. On weekends you can find music at several venues. For meals, we enjoyed the southern style food at the Olde Pink House, more modern fare at Local 11 and no trip down south is complete without a visit to a place like Wiley’s Championship BBQ.
When cruising in the region, consider other nearby ports of calls. Located just a few miles north of the mouth of the Savannah River is Hilton Head Island. Here you can enjoy miles of beaches and good golfing. You are also 75 miles from the other and larger belle of the south, Charleston, SC. Another old southern town worth a stop is Beaufort, located between Savannah and Charleston.
See http://www.visitsavannah.com/ for details on the city.
Please note due to the COVID pandemic it is important you check in advance on any place listed above for their operating hours.